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City officially grounds airport privatization effort

CITY HALL – The Board of Estimate and Apportionment met for less than three minutes on Wednesday, long enough to say a final “good riddance” to a much-criticized study on privatizing St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

By all intents, the effort ended in late December, when Mayor Lyda Krewson announced that she was pulling her support for a privatization study. Krewson said in a letter released in late December that she had asked Deputy Mayor for Development Linda Martinez, her representative on the Airport Working Group, not to support or vote or the issuance of requests for proposals from potential contractors.

Without that support, officials said, the project was dead. But Wednesday’s action by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment made it official. That body, which consists of the mayor, the comptroller and the president of the Board of Aldermen, did so by voting to terminate the request for proposal process before closing a privatization transaction.

In June 2018, the board of estimate reached an agreement with a team of consultants to study and consider proposals to lease, manage and operate the airport under the federal Airport Partnership Program.

That agreement said that the agreement would terminate automatically when the estimate board voted to end it, as it did on Wednesday.

The three main contractors were Moelis & Company LLC, McKenna & Associates LLC and Grow Missouri Inc.

“Today’s vote doesn’t change the fact that we all still need a stronger airport, which was what that process was about,” said Jacob Long, the mayor’s director of communications. 

“This vote just solidifies what the mayor has signaled, what she wanted to happen back in December when she made her announcement that she wanted the process to end,” Long said. “Today’s vote just solidified her leadership on that and her direction on that, with Comptroller [Darlene] Green and President [Lewis] Reed following suit.”

The conversation is still going on with many people about how to improve service at the airport. Long said.

Green, who never was a friend of privatization, lauded its end in a statement.

“The termination of the St. Louis Lambert International Airport privatization process is a clear victory for the citizens of St. Louis, who in truth never saw a compelling reason to privatize,” she said. “It’s now time for us to move forward, to develop the airport grounds while continuing to operate the airport in a very efficient manner.”

The airport privatization effort was controversial, but it didn’t cost the city anything. The estimate board’s agreement with the team of consultants stipulated that the city would not have to pay them until or unless the city closed on a deal to privatize the airport. 

“This was an appropriate activity to terminate the agreement but leaves the option in future years if they want to reapproach it,” Reed said.

“I think this is a win for good government and transparency in the city of St. Louis,” 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer said. Spencer, who led the charge against airport privatization, announced recently that she is running for mayor.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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